Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dr. Gordon Edwards letter to WP: "Uranium Mining in Va. Should Proceed Carefully"

From: Gordon Edwards
Date: December 5, 2012 4:17:52 PM EST (CA)

Letter submitted to the Editor:
(Washington Post)

Response to:
"Uranium Mining in Va. Should Proceed Carefully"

By encouraging uranium mining in Virginia, the editorial board reveals it has been misled by false information trivializing the environmental threats posed by uranium mining activities in Canada.
Those activities have cut a swath of environmental devastation, from Port Radium on the shore of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories, to the contaminated town of Uranium City in Northern Saskatchewan, to the pollution of the Serpent River system emptying into Georgian Bay in Ontario.
The most expensive environmental cleanup in Canadian history is now underway in Port Hope Ontario, simply retrieving and packaging uranium wastes at a cost of $1.2 billion.
In recent years, two Canadian provinces (British Columbia and Nova Scotia) have banned uranium exploration and mining altogether.
Whenever uranium is extracted, the residues ("tailings") are six times more radioactive than uranium alone. The tailings contain dozens of unwanted byproducts of uranium, each far more radiotoxic than uranium alone, with an effective half-life of 76 000 years.
Temporary containment of these tailings has improved due to pressure from NGO’s, but the fundamental problem remains unsolved. How do you keep millions of tons of radioactive sand out of the environment for 100 000 years and more?
Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., President,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

The Post’s View

Uranium mining in Virginia

should proceed carefully

By , Washington Post, December 4

BELOW A PLOT of land in south-central Virginia lies dollars worth of uranium ore, the critical radioactive fuel for America’s nuclear reactors. Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to extract it, bringing economic activity to the region. But three decades ago, the commonwealth imposed a moratorium on uranium mining. State lawmakers, who are likely to consider this winter whether to lift the moratorium, should be open to allowing uranium mining to proceed — but carefully.
Among other things, critics of lifting the moratorium claim that uranium mining poses dangers to water resources, particularly because the area is prone to big storms.
Contamination, they say, could occur even years after mining ceases; “tailings,” a byproduct of ore processing, might someday escape from storage zones. U.S. uranium mines, they say, have so far been located in the arid climates of western states, and even then water contamination has occurred around mining and milling sites. Virginians, they argue, should be very careful about allowing mining in their wetter climate.

Mining advocates counter that massive water contamination from tailings is unlikely, given modern standards and the care with which the company promises to proceed. It says it will isolate all its tailings below ground and far from rivers and flood plains. And it points out that uranium is mined around the world, in places with wetter climates than that of the American west. Canada is one of the largest producers, and its nuclear regulator insists that uranium mining there is very safe, given required safeguards.

A 2011 National Academy of Sciences study highlights the progress of mining standards, and it notes that instances of environmental damage “have mostly been observed at mining facilities that operated at standards of practice that are generally not acceptable today.” But it also cautions that it’s difficult to know whether below-ground storage facilities will remain durable for the hundreds of years they are designed to last.